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Dingell Whip Team Tries to Deflect Challenge to Chair Post

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has formed a whip team to fend off a challenge from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) for chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

A day after the national election Waxman, the second highest ranking Democrat on the committee behind Dingell, announced his plans to wrest the chairmanship away from Dingell, who after 53 years in the House is considered the dean of the chamber. The Democratic Caucus, which decides on committee chairmanships, may meet sometime this week, a Capitol Hill aide said Friday. But that could not be confirmed.

Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards of Texas, Bart Tupak of Michigan and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania have been named co-chairmen of the Dingell whip team whose job will be to keep the Waxman challenge at bay.

The initial whip team includes 23 other lawmakers, including members of the House energy panel -- Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Rick Boucher of Virginia, Charles A. Gonzalez of Texas, Gene Green of Texas, Jim Matheson of Utah (chair of the Blue Dog Coalition Energy Task Force), Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, Mike Ross of Arkansas (co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition), Robby Rush of Illinois and Edolphus Towns of New York.

Other prominent members are: Reps. Allen Boyd of Florida, co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, with the Blue Dog Coalition; Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, member of the Congressional Black Caucus; John S. Tanner of Tennessee, senior member of the Blue Dog Coalition; and Ellen Tauscher of California, chair of the New Democrat Coalition.

"I am confident that Chairman Dingell will remain at the committee's helm, which is exactly where we need him. There is simply no basis for challenging Chairman Dingell. In fact, there is a clear need to keep the gavel in Dingell hands," Stupak said.

"When a member runs for committee chairmanship, he should have a strong case for why the current chairman cannot or should not continue," Doyle said, adding that Waxman has made no such case.

"I view it [Waxman's power play] as very disruptive to the organization and agenda for the House," said a legislative expert recently (see NGI, Nov. 10). Dingell "works in a centrist fashion that gets results approved by the House," he said. "I don't think Waxman will win [the seat]. The more centrist Democrats won't support him. These are not people who will want to take a turn to the left."

Some believe that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) may be behind Waxman's power grab. There has been a history of bad blood between Dingell and Pelosi -- she stripped him of authority over global warming issues last year. But Pelosi alone won't decide who gets the chairmanship; instead, it will be up to the larger Democratic Caucus.

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